We must ever bear in mind that the great end in view is righteousness, justice as between man and man, nation and nation, the chance to lead our lives on a somewhat higher level, with a broader spirit of brotherly goodwill one for another. Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy. We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong. No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.
-Theodore Roosevelt, from his 1910 Nobel lecture
Roosevelt had been awarded the prize in 1905, this in recognition of his role in negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese war. He was the first American president – indeed, the first statesman – to win the prize and it did not come without controversy. According to the Nobel committee’s thumbnail about the award, Roosevelt was too “military mad” to suit some in Norway and “Swedish newspapers wrote that Alfred Nobel was turning in his grave …”
Since Roosevelt’s efforts in the cause of world peace, other presidents have tried their hand at it. Wilson had his “Fourteen Points” and his participation in negotiations that led to the Versailles Treaty and his failed efforts to get the United Sates into the League of Nations. Roosevelt, interestingly, had argued for such an organization, in his Nobel lecture. “Finally, it would be a masterstroke if those great powers honestly bent on peace would form a League of Peace, not only to keep the peace among themselves, but to prevent, by force if necessary, its being broken by others.”
That, of course, has been tried. Twice.
The League of Nations failed, but during its existence, some of the most extensive arms negotiations in the history of the world took place -- and succeeded. Under the terms of naval treaties, battleships were cut up for scrap. There was actual disarmament but, of course, it did not last and the world went back to war. The treaty making was fine but that part of Roosevelt’s formula for world peace that he called the “stern and virile virtues” was missing, and Japan and Germany simply rearmed and followed their aggressive instincts. About which they did not make any secret.
Which leads one to wonder what Roosevelt would make of this deal with Iran. Is there any question in the mind of anyone who has been paying attention that it is an aggressor nation? That its intentions as regards another nation – Israel -- are not just aggressive but determined on annihilation as Japan was on the island nations of the Pacific and Nazi Germany on the European nations to the east?
The destruction of Israel is a matter of state policy for Iran. And the Iranian people still like to mob up and shout “death to America.” Western media types might say that this is done “more out of habit than conviction,” but this the same sort of thinking that had Mr. Chamberlain convinced that he could deal with Hitler.
Analogizing Iran to Nazi Germany will take you only so far, of course. Still, the question of how peaceful states should deal with aggressor nations is crucial to the long argument ahead over the deal with Iran.
Nobody will be winning that argument by citing the opinions of Theodore Roosevelt. Elite opinion today holds him about the same esteem as those Swedish newspapers did when he was awarded the Nobel. But the insights of George Orwell might count for something. In 1940, when he reviewed Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Orwell wrote that